US 6th Fleet Practices Integration into NATO-Led Operations

US Carrier, Expeditionary Strike Groups Practice Integration into NATO-Led Operations

On the command and control ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20), members of the Striking and Support Forces NATO (SFN) and U.S. 6th Fleet completed a week of training on integrating U.S. Forces with NATO, June 7.

The event allowed the two staffs to practice the seamless integration of U.S. carrier or expeditionary strike groups into a NATO-led operations, while also learning the cultural and language differences of the 11 nations that make up SFN.

 “We exist to integrate U.S. forces into the wider NATO maritime piece,” said Rear Adm. Tim Lowe, deputy commander, SFN. “It is the distinct combination of capabilities that exist aboard Mount Whitney that makes it the optimum strategic location for 6th Fleet and SFN maritime headquarters to be based.”

“Mount Whitney is the command ship for U.S. 6th Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Frank Pandolfe, who also commands SFN,” said Craig Linderman, 6th Fleet Joint Training Readiness and Exercises division chief. “The flagship is the first choice for a command and control platform in the event of a SFN maritime operation.”

The integration training allowed the two staffs to learn the capabilities of each other.

 “This opportunity allows us to build respect between our organizations and build rapport and develop bonds of friendship,” said Linderman. “By working through this process we make advances on four fronts: respect, rapport, understanding each other, and developing and building patience. Mount Whitney brings us together in a close environment. We work together and solve problems together, but we also get to know each other after the work day.”

To streamline multinational maritime operations between SFN and the U.S, the two staffs overcame differences in language, culture and technology.

 “Working in a multinational environment provides an opportunity to learn and understand each other’s languages, different points of view and experiences,” said Lowe. “It is the combination of all of these elements that gives us the ability to reach solutions together, making us stronger as one force, rather than individual nations operating separately.”

French Navy Lt. Cmdr. Julian Glasson had spent the last 15 years flying maritime patrol aircraft for the French Navy. He found working in a multinational environment onboard Mount Whitney to be a new experience. Last year, he joined the SFN air branch to manage air space planning and operations.

 “It is the most important thing to know each other, to know the people I will be working with,” said Glasson. “The key lesson for me is that while terminology might be different, getting to know each other brings a commonality between organizations and operations. As a structure, we have different acronyms, names of working groups and names of functions, but we have a singular goal.”

After the training was completed, the SFN and 6th Fleet staff reviewed what they had accomplished during their time on the Mount Whitney.

 “We learned quite a few lessons from past operations, such as Odyssey Dawn and Unified Protector, that we folded into this integration exercise,” said Capt. Jack Thomas, SFN, director of operations. “Fundamentally, we learned that the effective integration of U.S. and NATO forces requires detailed planning and very close working relationships to achieve the level of teamwork demanded by today’s threat environments. We achieved these two things during this evolution. The US and NATO teams are now better poised to roll up their sleeves together and tackle collective problems successfully.”

Mount Whitney, homeported in Gaeta, Italy, is the U.S. 6th Fleet flagship and operates with a combined crew of U.S. Sailors and MSC civil service mariners. The civil service mariners perform navigation, deck engineering and supply service operations while military personnel aboard support communications, weapons systems and security.

Press Release, June 11, 2013; Image: US Navy